Presidential History

Reagan's Principles

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David Boaz wonders:

I wonder how many liberal journalists have ever watched Bedtime for Bonzo. It's actually quite funny to see Reagan as a young liberal college professor

reagan

trying to prove the "nurture" side of the nature-vs.-nurture and saying that there are no bad kids, just bad environments.

True enough. But if you really enjoy Reagan roles that rub uneasily against his political persona, the movie to watch is Don Siegel's remake of The Killers, with the future president as a violent villain. His best line: "I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles."

Reagan was already getting involved with politics when he appeared in that picture—it came out in 1964, just two years before he was elected governor of California—but he didn't try to weasel out of the part. I'm not a Reaganite, but I give the man credit for that. And for pardoning Merle Haggard. And for killing the Fairness Doctrine. And for that joke that pissed off so many people: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." I was a firmly liberal 13-year-old when he said that, but I just couldn't go along with the condemnations raining down from my side of the aisle—it seemed too much like something I would say if I somehow got to be president. (Note: Do not ever allow me to become president.)

Where was I? Oh, yes: The Killers. Rent the Criterion edition, which also includes Robert Siodmak's underrated 1946 film of the story and, among many bonuses, a 19-minute version by a young Andrei Tarkovksy. As I've said before, the thought of Tarkovksy making anything so short boggles the mind, but Tark fans needn't be disillusioned: In his hands, 19 minutes feels like three hours.

NEXT: Flanagan on Girl-on-Girl Action

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  1. Movies=fiction. Reagan=nonfiction. How stupid do you have to be to confuse the two?

  2. Who are you talking to, Petra?

  3. oh, hi Petra!

    I called again, cuz I was calling you and wasn’t sure if you got a busy signal. Not there? No?

    um. Hello? Petra? oh – I guess that was just a click on the line. Pet-

    *click. bzzzzzzzzzz.

  4. I had the same reaction to the “bombing begins in five minutes” joke. It wasn’t particularly funny (then again, it wasn’t meant for public consumption), but I thought it more a self-deprecating joke. I thought he was making fun of his own belligerent persona.

    As for giving Reagan credit, I give him credit for taking the blame for the Beirut fiasco.

  5. Jesse:

    It’s OK, really, our standards for presidential behavior aren’t that high. I’m sure you’d fit right in.

  6. I like (and liked) Ronald Reagan. And I’m really glad he’s not president in this post 9-11 world, because I fear I wouldn’t like him at all. In the eighties, he worked, and worked rather well. I prefer to leave him there.

  7. My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.

    That’s my favorite Reagan quote and it still makes me smile but I don’t actually fall out my chair LOL anymore.

    The Haggard pardon is way cool but if it was me, there woulda been no pardon.

  8. Do Petra chemicals cause caustic burns?

  9. Movies=fiction. Reagan=nonfiction. How stupid do you have to be to confuse the two?

    Oh, about yea stupid:

    >…the era of the modern celebrity committee hearing really began with “The Plight of the Family Farmer,” which played the House Agriculture committee back in 1985. Sure, the committee could have gone for some unknowns in the roles of bankrupt farm wives. But they went with big stars – Sissy Spacek, Jane Fonda ,and Sally Field. They all had the big names, and they had all played farm wives before, so the committee knew they could handle the roles.

  10. if it was me, there woulda been no pardon.

    Meaning that if it was TWC, Reagan wouldn’t have pardoned him.

  11. My favorite Reagan moment was when he referred to the leader of Liberia as “Chairman Moe.”
    That still makes me crack up.

  12. Damn, he pardoned Merle Haggard?! I’d hate to do it, but I might have to take back everything bad I’ve ever said about Reagan.

  13. My favorite Reagan moment was when he referred to the leader of Liberia as “Chairman Moe.”
    That still makes me crack up.

    Forgot about that. LOL

  14. Mr.Reagan made chimpaphilia okay long before I was blowing bubbles.

  15. I saw tarkovski’s ‘killers’ on that DVD

    It was the only thing of his I’ve never angrily destroyed in the middle of (aka 2 hours in). The man abuses his audience. Ok, Solaris was sorta palateable, only on a hard nyquil/valium buzz. Everything else made me want to lock him in a dark, solitary cell for a week and be like “HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?!!!” What makes me angrier is that he probably *would* like that.

    Fuck tarkovsky

  16. I saw tarkovski’s ‘killers’ on that DVD

    It was the only thing of his I’ve never angrily destroyed in the middle of (aka 2 hours in). The man abuses his audience. Ok, Solaris was sorta palateable, only on a hard nyquil/valium buzz. Everything else made me want to lock him in a dark, solitary cell for a week and be like “HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?!!!” What makes me angrier is that he probably *would* like that.

    Fuck tarkovsky

    Oh, at first I thought you were talking about Reagan.

    (Although it confused me when you said he was in Solaris.)

  17. PS: I also liked Reagan.

    PPS: Yes, I know … drug war. But it didn’t seem like that was the most important thing going on back then.

  18. You know, some of us get lines we can’t stand and we still play the role as written.

  19. I just wiki’d Merle Haggard, and it said nothing about a Reagan pardon. What up?

  20. Kwais, you jest din’t read far enuff….

    In 1972, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan gave Haggard a full pardon for his past crimes. Haggard often quips that few figures in history can become public enemy No. 1 and man of the year in the same 10-year period.

  21. From CMT.com

    Music legend Merle Haggard is one country star whose life was profoundly and dramatically changed by the late Ronald Reagan. Haggard had a ragged early childhood and, by his teenage years, became a runaway and a juvenile delinquent. After years of
    sporadic jail time for small-time offenses, he spent hard time years behind bars at San Quentin prison for burglary. He received a full pardon from then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972.

  22. (Note: Do not ever allow me to become president.)

    If I had one wish, I would choose a Jacob Sullum Presidency over a cure for cancer. True.

  23. the Reagan version of The Killers is one of my favorites. Where else can you find Norman Fell, Ronnie bitch-slapping Angie Dickinson, and a scene with Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager playing hit men with dark suits, skinny ties, and guns with ridiculously long silencers that Tarantino clearly saw before making Pulp Fiction. Oh and John Cassavettes was in it too.

  24. Does anyone remember the incident when Reagan was telling an amusing anecdote about his WW2 service that was actually from a movie? I’ve tried googling for it but I can’t find the right search criteria to locate anything useful.

  25. Does anyone remember the incident when Reagan was telling an amusing anecdote about his WW2 service that was actually from a movie?

    I think he mentioned Guadalcanal.

  26. “”His best line: “I approve of larceny; homicide is against my principles.”””

    A man’s gotta have his values!

  27. “I was a firmly liberal 13-year-old when he said that, but I just couldn’t go along with the condemnations raining down from my side of the aisle — it seemed too much like something I would say if I somehow got to be president.”

    But the joke would not have been funny if you said it. The whole point of the joke was to *make fun of* the image of “Reagan the warmonger.”

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  30. “I was a firmly liberal 13-year-old when he said that, but I just couldn’t go along with the condemnations raining down from my side of the aisle — it seemed too much like something I would say if I somehow got to be president.”

    But the joke would not have been funny if you said it. The whole point of the joke was to *make fun of* the image of “Reagan the warmonger.”
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